Kenny Anderson, the mad pop genius behind the King Creosote moniker, begins his sixth decade of existence with this loosely cohesive, moderately trippy, and deeply enjoyable record.
Kenny Anderson, otherwise known as King Creosote, is approaching a not-especially-distinctive-but-culturally-important milestone this year: he is turning 50. While hardly as impressive as the 60-plus releases he has put out over the course of a 21-year career, the half-century mark is imprinted with existential import and the intimations of mortality, which echo throughout the introspective and adventurous Astronaut Meets Appleman.
Of more significance still, and to add yet another existential wrinkle, Anderson recently became a father again. The album’s title was inspired by his young daughter, who, the story goes, had been given the gift of a shiny, new astronaut toy but preferred instead her homemade apple doll. The nine cuts collected on Astronaut Meets Appleman are all defined by a related sense of displacement between expectation and actuality.
The album’s sonics, too, are defined by the contradictions and interplay of duality, made up in equal part of synthetic and acoustic components, while its themes address past and future, the transitory and the permanent. Anderson’s mortality looms large here, along with the questions such recent milestones as his evoke: Have I made the right choices? Was I happier once upon a time? What time is left, and will it be better or worse than what has come before?
Such thoughts inevitably welcome nostalgia, that desperate drug of easy overdose, but this is a temptation that Anderson ably avoids, opting instead for cautious optimism wrapped in wry melancholy. “Love Life”, perhaps the album’s most upbeat track, opens with lyrics that recall an advertisement for an erectile dysfunction pill (“When your love life gets complicated / and your sex life hits the rocks”) but trundles on with Sorren MacLean’s romantic Spanish guitar to offer a knowing celebration of the passions of later life. “Peter Rabbit Tea”, built around a tape loop of Anderson’s daughter repeating the song’s titular phrase, is sweet and dreamy.
The brilliant, droning, seven-minute opening cut “You Just Want” sounds like Moby covering the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” (and that is meant as a positive). Its twisted strings and airy, disjointed female sighs bolster a stubborn resolve in wanting, simply, to be wanted. The mix of electronic drums with bagpipes in “Melin Wynt” creates a buzzing, uplifting drone that makes the argumentative challenges of any relationship appear worth the struggle. Anderson nods toward a willingness to change stubborn old habits when he sings “Don’t be the one to slam the door / For I won’t let you back in / With my track record, jaws will hit the floor / But all that has to change.” Age is supposed to bring wisdom, Anderson wants to reassure us, and tempers can be tempered in time.
“Betelgeuse” may best encapsulate the album’s moods and themes. With his talk of fixing his “magnetic north” and squeezing “the Arctic air out of my lungs” before setting course “for the space in between Orion’s belt and Betelgeuse", Anderson’s narrator could be a middle-aged Major Tom embracing the uncertainties of his later-life voyage: “My boat has sailed for oblivion / I may not be back in one piece,” he sings, concluding “That’s peace at last for me.” The song offers a wistful reflection upon an adventure to come that might just end with the singer’s end, an acceptance of mortality that is neither morbid nor unhappy. It is, simply, mature and content in the unknowing. Like Bowie’s tripping Major Tom, Anderson’s narrator takes his steps knowingly.
Astronaut Meets Appleman is loosely cohesive, moderately trippy, and deeply enjoyable. Anderson enters his sixth decade on this planet as one of the most sure-handed mad-pop-scientists of our times.